An improved MP3 format, MP3Pro, offering higher quality playback and smaller compressed file sizes was launched last week. Thomson Multimedia and the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft posted software to create and play the enhanced version of MP3, initially on Windows platforms.
The new format, which can produce files up to half the size of its predecessor, is compatible with the old version; MP3 players will play MP3Pro coded music, although with some loss of sound quality, and MP3Pro software can play existing MP3 tracks.
Thomson vice-president Henri Linde, hinting that MP3Pro would soon be supported by digital music devices, said that the new format had been well received by audio manufacturers and streaming companies. "There are more than 12 million portable MP3 players, 250 million PCs playing MP3 files and practically every song in the world has been encoded as an MP3 file," he said. "These [numbers] are a fact the industry cannot ignore."
Analysts were less bullish, pointing out that the new format was a necessary reaction to the competition, including Windows Media, which matched MP3 for quality and beat it on file size. Some suggested that MP3Pro did not go far enough to win the support of the recording industry because, unlike some of its competitors, it still lacked built-in anti-piracy technology.
Netscape communications launched a beta Netscape 6.1 browser on its site last week. The "preview release" is offered, without support, and aims to improve the stability and features set of the much-criticised version 6.0.
The test version, available for Windows, Mac and Linux, somewhat incongruously follows Netscape's recent announcements that it was repositioning itself as an internet company within the AOL Time Warner umbrella and de-emphasising its browser business. Jim Bankoff, Netscape's president, earlier this month said: "Six months from now, you won't consider Netscape to be a browser company"
The release could be a mere final tidying up of an incomplete product. However, NewsFactor Network, suggested that it could be a bargaining chip in the continuing negotiations between Microsoft and AOL. Citing sources close to the negotiations, it said AOL may continue with browser development if it cannot reach cross-license deals with Microsoft. At stake, initially, is whether the AOL sign-up icon will appear on the Windows XP desktop and whether Internet Explorer will continue to be the default browser used to power AOL's proprietary internet software.
Transmeta is targeting notebook manufacturers in the United States with the release of its TM5800 processor this month. The chip offers a 50 per cent performance increase over its predecessor by using more efficient software and faster memory chips. At the same time it will consume 20 per cent less power meaning longer battery life.
Transmeta's strategy so far has been to concentrate on the mini-notebook market in Japan, but the faster chip, running at up to 800Mhz, will allow it also to enter the buoyant "thin and light" market. David Ditzel, Transmeta's co-founder, said that the company's chips were used by all the Japanese manufacturers and that he was confident that US notebook manufacturers would follow suit.
"Japan is about a year ahead of the US in form factor and design," he said. "You don't win every notebook computer maker in the world overnight. We're looking forward to similar kinds of success in the US over the next few years."
MP3.COM'S LIBRARY reached the one million mark last week with the track "So Long" recorded by Lapdog, a band made up of former members of Toad The Wet Sprocket. The company also introduced a new premium subscription service, priced at $2.99 (£2.12) per month or $29.99 per year, allowing users to transfer digital music files from their online lockers to portable MP3 players or burn them to CD.
"Nobody wants to scrap their entire music collection when they sign up for an online music-subscription service, which will likely only have a tiny fraction of the music they want to listen to," said Michael Robertson, MP3.com chief executive. "Consumers want a platform where digital music expands their collection."
A survey by Edison Media Research suggested the move should be a profitable one. It found that 5.5 per cent of Americans aged 16 to 40 did not buy any CDs or cassettes last year but did actively download music over the Net.Reuse content